How to Celebrate MLB's Opening Day
Opening Day around Major League Baseball represents a clean slate, a chance to put aside the fortunes and misfortunes of 2014 and cast off that winter coat, scarf, gloves and knit hat in favor of a cap and some flip-flops. In a similar vein to the groundhog who sees his shadow, our favorite pro baseball players emerge from the dugout on Opening Day to signal six more months of baseball.
But with a grueling 162-game season ahead, some teams have greater cause for concern than others. As the song "Opening Night" goes in The Producers, "We are still in shock/Who produced this shlock?/That slimy, sleazy Max Bialystock/What a bum!"
Tampa Bay Rays fans may be saying something similar this season about owner Stuart Sternberg and general manager Matthew Silverman. Their team might be better off with a flop than a hit this year in a competitive AL East.
But whether your team projects as a raging success or a roster of question marks, these tips will help your Opening Day preparations for everything from mowing the grass to chowing down on sunflower seeds.
Take the Day Off
Somewhere along the line, the American workweek became a crushing weight of long hours, lost weekends and manic self-preservation. In Europe, countries designate certain Mondays as bank holidays during the summer for no reason—just because.
Ozzie Smith wants Opening Day to be a national holiday, and who are we to argue with "The Wizard of Oz"? It is a little bit worrisome, though, that Budweiser is partnering in the charge to take this day off...which would certainly lead to increased beer sales, hence the self-interested campaign.
As of yet, Smith's bid has fallen on deaf ears with lawmakers, so just call in sick and play hooky instead. Plausible excuses include: "contracted a 24-hour bug," "accidentally ate some expired soft cheese" and an acute case of "spring training fever."
Be Your Own Groundskeeper
You'll never be able to play baseball as well as the MLBers, but maybe with enough practice, you can improve your lawn game to approach the level of the ballpark groundskeepers. You'll never be as good as the true artists, but if you've got a lawn, then give it a shot.
Why not mow your team's logo into your lawn? Why not create your own special blend of bluegrass, Bermuda grass and ryegrass?
You can get a striping mower for less than $100, and some mowers can accommodate a striping attachment. Start off by mowing even stripes in your grass, and then work up to that lawn-sized portrait of Roberto Clemente you've always dreamed of.
If you don't have a lawn, try a team-themed window box, or ask a neighbor if you can rent their lawn for the season.
Fire Up the Grill
Bust out the grill and barbecue! (And no, it's not barbeque or barbequing; it's barbecuing, or BBQing.) And no, you cannot safely barbecue indoors to avoid rain and bugs unless you invest in a smokeless barbecue. Also, don't barbecue too often, because apparently it causes cancer, according to Harvard University, among others.
But by all means, enjoy your hot dog with some sauerkraut and a slathering of spicy brown mustard. Get some bacon cheeseburgers on the grill, too, provided you can prevent the bacon from slipping off the rack. Or for a healthier option, you can wrap almost any vegetable in aluminum foil with a little salt and olive oil, throw it on the grill and you'll have a delicious vegan BBQ treat.
If you want to get truly righteous (and very non-vegan) with your barbecue, buy a small smoker you can tow from your car, and you'll be the tailgate hero when you show up in the stadium parking lot with 10 pounds of tender brisket. Who cares if the game was rained out? We got brisket!
Draft a Fantasy Team
Participate in a fantasy baseball draft so you know all those random players, not just the stars. For example, can you name the two Minnesota Twins All-Stars last season? Hint: Joe Mauer wasn't one of them. Give up? It was Kurt Suzuki and Glen Perkins. Even if you answered correctly, that was almost certainly too slow.
With just a little brushing up, you'll become a master of the rosters and position battles around the league, casually rattling off shrewd nuggets like, "Of course the Chicago Cubs should leave Kris Bryant in the minors until June, because they won't make the playoffs this year and they can keep the kid under team control longer," or "The Tampa Bay Rays need to unleash Brad Boxberger's swing-and-miss stuff in the ninth inning."
Pretty soon, you'll be like CBSSports.com's Scott White—able to name and discuss more players than should be humanly possible.
Such speculative specifics include who's playing second base for the Chicago White Sox (they remain high on the light-hitting Carlos Sanchez, though he's having a solid spring) or which guy will record saves for the Houston Astros (probably Luke Gregerson or perhaps Pat Neshek).
Eat Lots of Sunflower Seeds
Buy an oversized bag of sunflower seeds. Put way too many in your mouth at once. Spit the shells everywhere. This works much better if you happen to have one of those robot vacuums to clean your home for you (and let the cat surf on).
You have to be careful when eating sunflower seeds, because you don't want to choke while trying to watch baseball, and you also don't want to chew up a bunch of shells, either.
Pack a wad of sunflower seeds between your cheek and your teeth. Work one sunflower seed at a time to the other side of your mouth, then lightly bite down on it vertically to pop the shell open. Eat the seed, spit the shell, rinse and repeat. After the wad has been in your mouth for a minute or two, your saliva will have softened the shells and made them easier to crack and spit.
Now you just have to determine your favorite flavor. You could stick with good ol' original, but there's also barbecue, jalapeno hot salsa, ranch, buffalo-style ranch, dill pickle, chili lime, et al. Don't worry, there's a version with reduced sodium, too.
Wear Team Apparel Proudly
Elevate your merch game. Did you buy a jersey of a player who's been traded or signed elsewhere? Give it up. Unless you are willing to carry the torch of that player's legacy, or you picked an incredibly obscure player to highlight the depth of your knowledge and devotion to your team, or you wear it ironically, try to keep your team apparel fresh.
Jerseys should be either classic or current, so you might as well surrender that authentic Carl Crawford Boston Red Sox kit to the Salvation Army or use it to wax your car. However, if you invested in one of those pink Alex Rodriguez jerseys a few years back, they are actually back in season once again.
And while the cost of buying a jersey can be prohibitive even for a replica, you can instead invest in a jersey T-shirt, or "shersey," (or "shirsey") for about 20 or 30 bucks. It's a convenient way to hedge your bet on a player who could just be a passing fad.
Pack the Suntan Lotion
Don't forget the suntan lotion! With some American League games requiring four hours to play just nine innings, attending a day game involves a lot of sitting around and soaking up the rays (sunrays, not Tampa Bay Rays, unless you're a Rays fan, in which case they play in a horribly ugly, sunless dome).
If you fail to slather yourself in SPF 45 before the first pitch, you just might have a nasty burn from the midday sun by the top of the fourth inning. And good luck trying to find suntan lotion for sale at the ballpark—Yankee Stadium even banned it for a time.
(Fun sunburn fact: Former Orioles outfielder Marty Cordova once missed several games in 2002 with a sunburn, though he had actually fallen asleep in a tanning bed.)
If you're in a ballpark and in need of sun protection and can actually find somewhere selling it, that will be the best $25 you've ever spent on suntan lotion.